So on Sunday, February 2nd 2014, I ran the 2014 Miami Half Marathon for the second time. And for the second time in a row, I’ve sworn that I will never run the Miami Marathon/Half-Marathon again. Maybe this time it will take…
Let’s back up a spell and warm-up the Wayback Machine.
I ran this race before in 2012, when it was called the ING Miami Half Marathon. This was about seven months before Hokeyblog began, so there is no race review to crystallize my experience in flowery prose. That half marathon was my second race ever, coming a scant three weeks after my triumphant debut at the 2012 Walt Disney World Half Marathon. When I had completed that initial race, I couldn’t wait to sign up for my next… and since ING Miami was coming up, right in my hometown, I couldn’t sign up fast enough.
And I did! And then I got a nasty, wicked, body-debilitating flu five days before the race. You know the type, where you can barely function, where you can feel the raging fever inside you so strong, it’s easier to keep your eyes closed since, when they’re open, you can feel the delicate folds of your eyelids bubbling and burning at a blazing 8 thousand degrees. I was heartbroken about being too sick to race, and at the point of giving up any hope when — on the day before the race — the fever broke and I felt good enough to drag my tired butt to the convention center, grab my registration materials, and hit the asphalt the next morning.
I suppose what happened next wasn’t necessarily the race’s fault. They had no control over my in-flu-recovery health, and I certainly wasn’t running at my best. Plus it was extremely muggy, sticky, and humid that morning with little to no breeze whatsoever. Not the race’s fault. And then there are just angry, rude, obnoxious Miami people everywhere who wouldn’t know race/spectator etiquette or just common courtesy if it jumped off a bridge and and ramrodded them with a parasol. Not the race’s fault either.
I just didn’t have a good race experience that day. I managed to PR by one minute (which, being my second race, wasn’t that hard to do, given my first Half was at Disney) but after I finished I just wanted to get the hell out of there as soon as possible. It was hot, crowded, loud, and not exactly a fun, festive atmosphere. Running Disney as my first race probably spoiled me a little bit. But I was pretty much done with running ING Miami. Not the race’s fault. I just had a bad experience that day.
Cut to the 2013-2014 race season. In my quest to complete the Florida Storm Series and grab all the extra bling I could possibly get my hands on, I had to return to the scene of the crime and face the Miami Half Marathon once more. At least this time, I was ready for it. Back then I had only run one race before, and I was still a neophyte racer. This time, though, I was a seasoned pro. I had thirteen Halfs, one Full, a 100 mile relay, a 10-miler, and a host of 5Ks and 10Ks under my belt. I knew the course, knew the challenge, knew the area, and even came armed with a host of running buddies on the course with me. I was about to beat this race like it owed me money, right?
Nope. While I had a better overall experience (mostly because of the aforementioned Buddy System), I pretty much didn’t have a great race experience this time around either.
Here’s a look at the race course, courtesy of my Garmin and Google Maps:
Let’s get the big stuff out of the way: I was not happy with my time of 2:34. That’s pretty much a Personal Worst for me — twenty-seven minutes off my PR. When I ran it two years ago, I did it in 2:24 and I was a much less experienced runner then. Of course there was one major difference then: we weren’t roasting to the core underneath a brutally unforgiving sun. This time it got really hot, really fast, and didn’t let up for the remainder of the race. I even ran with my hydration belt — one thing I *never* do. Ever. I generally don’t like racing with my own hydration, because there’s always plenty on the course. Why weigh yourself down with extra baggage? But after checking the forecast all week (obsessively so) and being aware of what kind of weather we’d be facing, I knew I needed to run with my own fluids as well. So I filled up my bottle with Gatorade, tucked it into the pouch, and strapped it around my waist. I’d still stop at all the hydration stations, but I’d have my own fluids as needed in between them.
I finished all 20 ounces of Gatorade and had to have it refilled around mile 7ish. And I emptied that bottle too. It was so hot that I actually started feeling chills in the middle of the race. Now Mama didn’t raise no dummy; I knew all about Runner’s Chills — the body’s major warning sign that you are overheating and heading towards a shutdown. I found some shade and drank my Gatorade for a few minutes, then took off at a racing walk pace afterward until I felt good enough to run again. But in my mind, the race was already lost.
Now it wasn’t entirely a horror story. Our story began the previous day, when Boots and I had driven down to the Miami Beach Convention Center to pick up my registration materials. Now this is one huge race expo. The sheer amount of vendors, speakers, runners, families, noise, and excitement is second to none when it comes to those I’ve experienced in the past.
When I went to pick up my race bib and shirt, I noticed the XL shirt looked a little on the small side, and managed to Lebowski an XXL shirt with the following True Tale:
I asked the guy handing out shirts (who didn’t look a day over 19) if I could do a size exchange, and he pointed me to the SOLUTIONS desk. I walked over to the Solutions queue, waited patiently in line, and when it was my turn I inquired if I could exchange my shirt for another size.
“NO!” declared a rather snooty woman. “We do NOT do shirt exchanges.”
“Every other marathon event I’ve ever attended does shirt size exchanges,” I replied.
“That is NOT our policy,” she said with an arrogant huff. “You must get the size your registered with. You CAN, if you want to, check with the INFO booth tomorrow at the race and see if they have any extras. But I wouldn’t hold your breath…”
And with that she turned and walked away from me, helping the next customer. I stood there for a moment, thinking to myself, and slowly walked back to the shirt line. The same kid who pointed me out to the SOLUTIONS desk was still standing there. He recognized my flummoxed face and looked at me inquisitively.
I was hit with a sudden moment of inspiration. “Yeah, she said it was OK!” I casually announced, and moments later walked away with my brand new 2XL tech shirt. Millheiser – 1, Bitchy Miami Woman – GOOSE EGG.
I also bumped into a host of friends from the running club, which meant a lot of high-fives and group excitement, for both of us. Since Boots was now the “official” FIT photographer for the event, she has now become much more popular with the group than I ever was, and more power to her for that! I’m still a closet introvert. Don’t tell anyone. Anyway, I ended up buying some knick-knacks (as well as a new pair of TR60 running sunglasses in a blue matte finish), hanging out for a little, and by 1PM we were out there door.
The next morning we made it to the American Airlines Arena just before 5 AM. I had gotten a good night’s sleep and forego breakfast in lieu of a CLIF bar. That was probably a mistake, as I could have used more fuel in the tank. But with my stomach acting up as it was in the previous few days, I didn’t want to risk any on-course Porto-Potty emergencies. Anyway, we parked underneath the AAA right by Kristi, Ines, and Vivian and walked up to the predetermined photo op area for group pics. Boots managed to capture some good ones.
Gear wise, I was sporting a new pair of CW-X Compression shorts (I’ve used CW-X compression gear before, so it wasn’t exactly “new” to me but definitely my first time racing in them) as well as my new CW-X calf sleeves (a birthday gift, thanks Kristi!). I was running with the aforementioned hydration belt as well. By the time Kristi, Ines, and I got to corral F, I was feeling pretty feisty and raring to go. The race started at 6:15 AM (with the requisite national anthem and disabled racers going off at 6:10), but by then it was already starting to feel a little steamy. There was a nice cool breeze blowing, so at least we had that. Still, it felt like a longer than normal wait between corrals, even though (according to my Garmin) we crossed the Start Line at 6:38AM. Behind us, a group of (what I’m assuming were) Brazilian runners started chanting something that I couldn’t make out, even with the very limited Portuguese in my arsenal. It sounded a lot like “NO MORE CHURROS!!” … which I thereby started chanting out myself, followed by a brief but detailed 5 minute pontification about how the eradication of churros would grossly benefit the non-churro community.
YOU. CANNOT. TAKE. ME. ANYWHERE…
Anyway, the race proper: I gave a basic summation of my experience early in the review, but for those who’ve never done it before, it certainly provides a fairly comprehensive tour of the South Beach highlights. You head over the MacArthur Causeway, with the Star and Palm Islands on your left and Port of Miami on your right. Even though the first mile begins with a bridge, it’s the only real incline of the Half Marathon. After that you circle past South Point, down Ocean Drive (the main artery of South Beach, with the Atlantic Ocean on your right), north on Washington with a “Publix Mile” loop around Prairie and Meridian Avenues, and west up the Venetian for about 3 miles until we’re back on the mainland and a final jaunt down North Miami Avenue (right down the street where they had all the outdoor sets for the garbage “Rock of Ages” movie) until we made our way back to the Finish Line.
Rather than do a mile by mile breakdown, I’m just going to highlight what really stood out to me. I already mentioned the heat issues, so there’s no point going back to that well. This race had plenty of walkers, and as such had plenty of people who failed to grasp the concept of walking on the sides, no more than two abreast. I’m not just tolerant of walkers; I encourage and salute them. 13.1 miles is 13.1 miles whether you walk, run, jog, or crawl. They’re out there just as hard as anyone else. And most walkers are conscientious of race etiquette, period. But at this race? Not so much. I continually encountered human wall after human wall. It got frustrating, to say the least, especially in the narrower portions of the course.
I seem to have this complaint a lot lately. I would hope future race organizers really hammer home race etiquette, both in the pre-race materials as well even on the course.
There were thousands upon thousands of runners out there — almost twenty thousand of them — which means this was a fairly crowded race. On-course facilities were fairly well populated and stocked, but for the love of whatever deity you believe in (or not), can someone please tell these hydration stop volunteers to KEEP THEIR FINGERS OUT OF THE SERVING CUPS? I mean it’s common sense, really.
It also seemed the plenty of runners didn’t get the memo on how to adjust their race strategy in the face of oppressive heat. I live, work, and train in South Florida, and as I mentioned above, even I started to feel the affects of overheating… and I was hydrating as properly as one can! At 80+ degrees in South Florida humidity, you can expect your average pace to drop by 2 min/mile, or perhaps even more. I started out running 10:1 intervals and was able to keep it in the 10 – 10:30 minute/mile range for the first four miles. By the sixth mile I was at the 10:46 pace and dropping. By mile 6 I slowed my intervals down to 5:1 to adjust to the heat and my slower pace… and then down to 3:1’s just around Mile 8, or just around when the chills set in and I started to overheat. After that, it was whatever I felt comfortable with. Maybe the race was “lost” by that point — and by “lost”, I mean that I was cruising for a disappointing finish time — but I still planned to finish strong and under my own power. By then I had lost count of how many runners I had seen on the sidelines overcome and passed out from heat exhaustion. I stopped counting at 8. Those were really brutal conditions.
Here’s a sad confession: I never saw Boots! She was stationed on the side of the road, right as we left the Venetian, right near the Metro Mover entrance, and I missed her completely. To compound the issue: she missed me too! So while she managed to capture pics of so many fellow FIT runners on the course, I alas was not one of them. Quel dommage! I would have to satisfy myself with her pre- and post-race pics, as well as the MarathonFoto pictures I refuse to pay for right now.
As far as on-course entertainment, there were certainly plenty of marching bands, dancers, cheerleaders, and rock/pop/whatever bands scattered along the way. I think we can forever retire spectators holding “WORST PARADE EVER” signs now. Although the “Run-like-Justin Bieber’s-driving-behind-you” posters were rather timely and apropos for South Beach. There was also a small bounce-house-looking castle on Dade Blvd that you could run through, spraying misty water on all who entered its welcoming embrace. Although the water was rather warm, it was definitely appreciated. By then we were scorching anyhow, so every little bit helped. I’m also glad that I was wearing headphones right around the turn from NE 15th Street onto North Miami Avenue, because the “band” that was playing in the back of that truck — calling them a “band” is being entirely too generous — sounded like a cacophonous diarrhetic explosion of audio swill. Your mileage may vary, but someone should have hijacked that truck the minute that noise started making Baby Jesus cry.
By the time I had limped my way across the Finish Line, I was already spent and starting to cramp in my inner thigh. Some of the Finish Line pics show me with gritted teeth; that was no affectation. I was really hurting there. And in true fashion, large groups of people took it upon themselves to sprint the last few yards to the Finish Line like requisite bats outta hell. That’s their prerogative, of course. I keep my pace steady, but that’s mine. So right as I’m crossing the Finish Line, this yutz of a woman decides she wants to spring diagonally across from her side of the Finish Line to the other, sideswiping me along the way. I nearly tripped her. In retrospect, I probably should have just out of General Principle. MAN I’m too nice a guy…
Anyway, I finished the race. I was hot, drained, tired, and a little disappointed. But I gave it my all, so I can never complain about my own performance. I walked down the chute, grabbed a water, and got my medal. And sadly, not everyone who crossed the Finish Line for the Half got their medals. You see, given the oppressive heat conditions, many people running the Full decided to call an audible at the 13 mile point and just complete a Half instead. And there’s nothing wrong with that, of course. But more people did just that than were probably expected, and as a result they ran out of Half Marathon medals right around the 2:45 mark. There were wide reports of runners disappointed to find out, after enduring a brutal 13.1 mile journey, that no medals were available for them. The Race Organizers addressed the issue on the website, explaining that a shipment of Half medals was somehow “misplaced” or “lost” or something. That’s as may be, and they did promise to contact racers and mail them their medals as soon as possible, but here were tons of angry complaints, both at the Finish Area as well as online at the Facebook page. People suggested that Full Marathoners who ran the Half should have been put on a waiting list, but logistically that would have been really difficult to throw together at the last minute.
I completed in a good enough time to get a medal before they ran out, but even if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have minded so much. A medal is just a cheap (but usually stylish) trinket, but the victory lies in the undertaking, not the hunk of metal around your neck. People buy and sell race medals all the time on eBay. On its own, the medal means absolutely nothing. I can understand the disappointment, but it still shouldn’t ruin your race experience. The physical proof of successfully completing a race is transitory; the memories, the hard work, the determination, the digging in to find your last reserves of strength, endurance, and determination is the real prize.
But running out of BEER?? No excuse for that in any capacity. The Miami Marathon dropped the ball there, big time. Lots more complaints there as well, and rightfully so. That’s a rookie mistake right there.
The Exit Chute had plenty of Finisher Photo Op stations, as well as the recovery snacks we all know and love: bananas, cookies, muffins, water, and more. Unfortunately, there was one pitfall that they sure haven’t fixed since I first ran the race in 2012: there are only two exits out of the Exit Area, and they are roughly 2.5 feet wide. Bottleneck central. It took an eternity to leave. Even worse, once people left the Exit Area, they had no idea where to go… SO THEY JUST STOOD THERE. Tempers were flying real high; I heard a lot of cursing and arguing. Or just people yelling out “KEEP MOVING!!” to those clueless dolts who stood blocking the exits. Exit Area management really needs to overhauled for the next race, and fast.
After finally navigating that disaster, I walked over to the Florida Storm Series tent where I finally received my Category-3 bonus medal, and boy oh boy was I ever so pleased with myself. I mean, not just for getting the extra bling for running the first three races of the Storm Series (13.1 Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beaches Half, and of course this race) but also because immediately afterward it started MONSOONING. We’re talking a sudden and ruthlessly thorough downpour that lasted about 20 minutes. Since I was in the tent, I found an empty chair and stayed there for the duration. It was rather refreshing, actually. I would have loved for that kind of rain during the hottest, most miserable sections of the race. But while I knew that kind of cooldown would have been amazing, I also knew South Florida well enough to realize that the scorching sun would return with a vengeance afterward — and it did. For the runners still out there, that meant wet roads and now even steamier, muggier conditions.
FIT had a recovery tent shared with Motorola, so when the downpour relented into a drizzle I made my way there, chatting up with fellow buddies until Boots finally reappeared with not one but TWO chocolate milks for me. What a doll! Sadly, there was a runner completely passed out on the ground next to our tent, being treated by paramedics. He looked young, in shape, and totally unresponsive. Thankfully, he came around but was still carted away to the E/R for his own safety. I saw another two runners being treated as well; one of our own FIT runners who ran as the Full marathon with an amazingly impressive time was also dehydrated and overcome by the heat. Thankfully, she rebounded fine, but those race conditions battered upon even the strongest and healthiest of runners. Later I had found out that Ines, who is a registered nurse, witnessed a runner collapse in front of her. She stopped running to administer CPR and keep him stable until the paramedics arrived, but she reported that he was unresponsive and wasn’t breathing. The runner himself was a young man with an athletic build, but it underscores how easily one can be overcome by the elements in an endurance event. While walking to my car to grab a change of shirt and some deodorant, I saw a host of paramedic and emergency response teams zipping by.
It was REALLY harsh out there. Still, our group had a 100% completion rate. Knowing how to adjust to adverse conditions is about as integral to running and racing as all the training you could possibly do.
Boots and I stayed around for awhile. We had a massage therapist on our tent, and she did amazing work on my lower back and calves, which were aching like Hades. Meanwhile Boots was still taking photos, and we wanted to cheer on our friends who were running the Full Marathon at the Finish Line. Our Team Director Marcela was completing her 50th event, and being there to witness her final steps to the Finish Line was pretty amazing.
Soon it was around 1 PM, nearly four hours after I finished my Half, and by then all of our buddies had completed their races. We were pretty hot, tired, and FAMISHED, so we skidaddled and made the trek home (with a stop at Wendy’s) and relaxed for a bit before heading out for Superbowl festivities that evening. The less said about that game the better; I had no skin in the conflict whatsoever, but we left the pub mid 3rd quarter due to sheer ennui.
So overall, I really don’t see myself running the Miami Marathon event ever again. While they have no control over the weather — I’d have to take that up with a higher authority, and if that were the worst of my problems in life, DAYENU — I still find the race to be a bit too crowded, too frenzied, and many of the people entirely too obnoxious. On the other hand, with a group of friends to cheer and support you, as well as provide some fun pre- and post-race hangouts, the race is a lot more palatable. And yes, it’s really hard to beat that level of scenery. But I’ve done it twice now, and haven’t really enjoyed the Miami Marathon event all that much either way. I’d like to try some new races next season anyhow. So if you’ve always wanted to run Miami, the Miami Marathon & Half Marathon is definitely the area’s premier race event. It can be exhilerating, but it’s often an aggravating experience as well. Overall I still prefer the smaller-scale charms of 13.1 Fort Lauderdale. the Palm Beaches Run, or the Publix A1A Half. Your mileage, as always, may vary. Here’s the video: